Thursday, June 7, 2012

goodbye, hello

Now that I discovered twitter, this blog seems old-fashioned, like bonnets and stays. I think that's why I've come back.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

inserting rivers

Lately I’ve been thinking about the writing I did in primary school. The story I wrote about a man and a boy ‘fending’ for themselves. What a big word, for a grade five, or a grade four, perhaps a grade six. A teacher, I can’t remember her name, saying we should try to get it published. Walking down the corridor, near the grade-five macrame.

Where are those words? Gathering damp and webs in my mum’s garage?

I think I have gone too far away from my childhood. It was only when I set part of my novel on a road from my teens that it started to work. I needed the physical landscape to find the emotional one. I needed the war memorial tower to find the view of the city. And then I ran a river close by. This is fiction, after all.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

the going-to-press blues and other rambles

Another day, another two books to press. Just whipping them out really, full of grace. No three in the morning panics about French culinary terms or whether my authors can withstand the cracking pace set for them. Or whether I can.

In one of the books that I sent off today was this line: 'I could feel a little of the orchard conversation clinging to me.' It clung to me for ages; what a beautiful way of showing something linger.

One of the things I love most about editing is logic and continuity. Fucked if I know why; my desk is messy and I think I overpay Telstra. But I love discovering in chapter three that it's Thursday not Tuesday, and stitching back together a whole sequence of events that would otherwise have unravelled. I love making sure that the heroine's long, tangly strawberry-blond hair stays that way through the entire book, unless she gets a surprise platinum bob, in which case I like keeping it surprised and platinum. I love the threads of a book, and I'm fascinated by writers (like the orchard conversation guy) who can keep all their threads so clearly in their mind that they know, unerringly, that changing three words of dialogue in chapter 10 will have consequences on the second page of chapter 15, and the third last line of the book.

I meant to say something about the going-to-press blues. But that is a whole other blog.

I just watched the first episode of season four of Friday Night Lights, which basically means I just watched Tim Riggins.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

getting loose

I don't keep a journal. I have in the past...a long, long time ago. But today I went to Creative Journaling, a workshop run by author Simmone Howell and poet Lisa D'Onofrio in Daylesford. The workshop was designed to shake your writing up; what I hadn't banked on was that it would shake my mind up too. Six hours passed in about ten minutes.

One of the exercises was about possibilities that can be kickstarted by ephemera. We dipped for old postcards, scraps of writing, cut-out pictures of retro-glamour women. I chose: 'Perhaps they could find new happiness in the New World.' Brilliant in my post-Patrick Ness phase. This is what I wrote:

Her hands were thinner now
Three weeks until entry
Silver packages of food
I can't, she said
I can't eat.
This again.
Galaxies have grown in her eyes
And settled like scales on the ship walls
A fish flying through space
A woman shrinking with hope

It was so nice to write something that wasn't my novel. I never do that. Every spare writing second is spent in an exploding city. I loved being in a spaceship instead.

They're running another one in September—so worth going to.

Friday, May 27, 2011

readings matters washes and dries my mind

I spent the day at the Reading Matters conference today. It was a weird day—I've been out of action for a couple of weeks and being elbow to elbow with other people all day was like being shoved into a washing machine. But, as always, I came away thinking hard and admiring harder.

1. YA. YA, YA, YA. How I love thee and loathe thee. (The construction of 'YA', not the books.)  I've just finished reading Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go. Spent all day banging on about it. I haven't been this scared or exhilarated, lost in a book since...I'm not sure actually, maybe never. This book is a big freaky sci-fi poem. The writing is exquisite—the voice is exquisite. Todd Hewitt is scared and his voice was so close around me I was terrified alongside him. The pace is breakneck. I basically ate the book. So today at Reading Matters, listening to all the amazingness going on onstage, I was depressed by the thought that if Patrick Ness was up there his audience would be limited to 300 enlightened readers who know that the writing going on in the 'YA' field kicks it. He, and many other 'YA' writers, should be speaking to stadiums of thousands. I know I'm being overly simplistic.

Frank Cottrell Boyce reviewed the book for the Guardian. (Read the full review here; I've pulled out a couple of paras that go to the heart of what I'm talking about.)

If I have one quibble, it is that I think it should be sitting proudly on the shelf next to these ['adult'] books, rather than being hidden away in the "young adult" ghetto. There's been a lot of fury among authors recently about the proposal to "age-band" children's books, but in a way they're too late. The real disaster has already happened. It's called "young adult" fiction. It used to be the case that you moved on from children's fiction to adult fiction, from The Owl Service, maybe, to Catcher in the Rye. There were, of course, some adult authors who were more fashionable with teenage readers than others - Salinger, Vonnegut, Maya Angelou. But these were chosen by teenagers themselves from the vast world of books. Some time ago, someone saw that trend and turned it into a demographic. Fortunes were made but something crucial was lost. We have already ghettoised teenagers' tastes in music, in clothes and - God forgive us - in food. Can't we at least let them share our reading? Is there anything more depressing than the sight of a "young adult" bookshelf in the corner of the shop. It's the literary equivalent of the "kids' menu" - something that says "please don't bother the grown-ups". If To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, that's where it would be placed, among the chicken nuggets.
This is not just a question of taste. It seems to me that the real purpose of stories and reading is to take you out of yourself and put you somewhere else. Anything that is made to be sold to a particular demographic, however, will always end up reflecting the superficial concerns of that demographic. I've lived through an era in which demographic-fixation murdered popular cinema and replaced a vibrant art form with a kind of digital holding-pen for teenage boys. I think we're in danger of doing the same to fiction. The best young adult fiction - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, A Swift Pure Cry, Noughts and Crosses and so on - strolls out of its category. I've no doubt at all that The Knife of Never Letting Go will do the same. Don't let the demographic exclude you.

2. Markus Zusak, reading from his new work, had this line describing character: 'They want the night to see them coming.' Beautiful.

3. Lili Wilkinson, who won the Ibby Ena Noel Award in 2010 for Scatterheart, received the award today. Congrats, Lili. I still think about Scatterheart often. Lili was also responsible for my favourite fashion of the day, worn by her mum, Carole Wilkinson—a necklace of felted circles that Lili sewed for her mum's birthday.

4. Cassandra Clare is hilarious. I can't wait to read her books, despite the spoiler, then the reverse spoiler! Are they or are they not brother and sister???

5. In a tangential way, looping back to the first point, I spent a lot of today wondering why I like reading about 16-year-olds. Is it because (as put out there by Kirsty Eager on the 'monsters' panel) from that point on our bodies are slowly dying? Is this a death thing?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

good worlds

Hurrah! Leon Davidson just won the New Zealand Post Awards:

What moved me to tears, many times over, when editing Zero Hour were the words of the soldiers themselves:
'When you next see this I'll be dead: don't worry...Try to think I did the only possible thing, as I tell you I would do again if I had the chance.' Sergeant David Baker
And in Messines, in 1917, 'New Zealander Private Sidney 'Stan' Stanfield saw his mate Private Janes Hallett...get shot as they moved out of a trench. He recalled when he returned the following day to bury him,
poor old Jim was laying there, cuddled up in a heap, as men die. Don't forget we were all young, we didn't die easy. You don't die at once, you're not shot and killed stone dead. We were fit and highly trained, and of course we didn't die easy. You were slow to die, and you'd find them huddled up in a heap like kids gone to sleep, you know; cuddled up dead.'

And Cath Crowley won the Ethel Turner in the NSW Prem's Literary Awards.
With the two most beautiful opening lines. 
'Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow.' 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

writing tip #3

My second last house (a flat) had beautiful messmate floors and a big window that trucked in beautiful light. The view was over the apartment block opposite, the mirror of ours. Looking out was a little Rear Window, in a downtown pre-renovated Northcote way (ie, full colour, 1960s square block, nothing pretty—and no one opened their curtains but us, so actually there was only a whole lot of imagining.) The floors and the window were lovely, but there was nowhere to get comfortable. It was a bad place for writing.
My last house has been renovated all in white paint and floorboards. It looked pretty, but was cold, echoey, with not a skerrick of carpet in sight. Too cold for creativity.
This new house has carpet. Lots of it. Carpet is warm and comfortable. Forget the baltic pine underneath. It's a great place for writing.